By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Children trapped in violent and abusive situations don't usually know where to turn for help, so local officials have devised a non-threatening, fun way to let them know that there are people who will help them.
The Wesley House's East MS Children's Advocacy Center hosted its annual Child Safety Fair on Thursday, which was sponsored by the Lauderdale County Multidisciplinary Team.
Maya Edwards, victims services coordinator for East MS Children's Advocacy Center, said the Multidisciplinary Team is comprised of people from front line agencies that deal with child abuse and neglect, and sexual abuse.
The goal is to let children know that they have somewhere to turn if someone is hurting them.
"We're trying to teach them safety in all aspects — protection from bullies, online safety, and all the agencies they can go to receive help," Edwards said.
Another major component is building children's trust in people who can help them.
"We grew up in a time where you usually go to law enforcement if you need help," Edwards said. "We're promoting that same thing. Find someone who can get you some help if you are having problems at home. These are all safe people that you can go to in the community."
The fair included removable tattoos, face painting, along with a child ID program, and an appearance from Darren the D.A.R.E. Lion and, of course, snacks.
Auzhuric Bailey, 10, of Meridian, said he learned why bullying is bad.
"You should always be nice, take care of each other," Bailey said. "If you bully somebody, that means you're trying to make other people laugh but you really don't know that you are hurting somebody's feelings."
He also learned about what police officers do.
"They try to bring people to justice for people who hurt other people," Bailey said.
Ti'Ryiah Boler, 7, also attended and said she learned some things.
"I learned safety first and that you are always going to have your seatbelt on," Boler said.
Wayne Long, with the American Red Cross, said their mission is not just to reach children, but their parents as well. He and other Red Cross staff were working out of their Emergency Response Vehicle, which is used in times of emergencies to distribute food and other necessities.
"Every time we go out and do anything like this, they learn and the public learns," Long said. Volunteers are always needed, he said. To join, go to mississippiredcross.org.
Gypsi Ward of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, said one of the goals is for children to see the good side of law enforcement.
"You do see a lot of kids who are scared of law enforcement, whether it's the parents' fault or if it's generational. We try to get them to come out here so they can see that we're not bad," Ward said.
And the child ID program is a hit with parents, she said.